A great group of local and international birders board a Cape Town Pelagics boat for a mid-winter trip heading out from Simon's Town. We were soon steaming out into False Bay and in the pre-dawn light we enjoyed a brief sighting of two Humpback Whales. The first rays of sunlight made an appearance as we arrived at the iconic Cape Point. After the standard photo shoot of the iconic landmark, we started out towards the trawling grounds.
Shortly after the point, we started seeing our first White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters of the day. It was some time before we got our next pelagic species, a Manx Shearwater at about 10 miles from the point. This was followed by three Shy Albatross which were on the water where a Cape Fur Seal was busy eating a fish it had killed. Next we encounter a juvenile Black-browed Albatross which did several close flybys. We could still not make see any fishing vessels on the horizon and we were starting to lose hope. However, at about 16 miles we managed to glimpse a long-liner to the north and we change course and headed in her direction. As we approached we started seeing many more Black-browed and Shy Albatross as well as our first Brown (Subantarctic) Skuas. The longliner was not fishing but steaming slowly to the west. We could see another longliner a bit further out and were planning to run up to this vessel to see if she was fishing. However the briefest flash of the distinctive silhouette of a trawler to the north west caused us to abandon the longliners and head immediately in her direction.
As we neared the stern trawler we could see that she was actively fishing and was busy processing as there were very many birds in tow. We joined the fray and soon added Pintado Petrel and Southern Giant Petrel. Another Manx put in a brief appearance. It was a great spectacle with clouds of birds around the boat, many coming within arm’s reach. There a few Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross but we had to work hard before we eventually found an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. Our approach was to work slowly down the wake and then run back up to the trawler. We repeated this several times and were rewarded when an absolutely massive juvenile Wandering Albatross came flying leisurely past us. We followed it for a while as it crisscrossed through the trawlers wake. It soon landed and gave phenomenal views. It was a huge individual, completely dwarfing the other “smaller” albatrosses. We continued to work the area adding Northern Giant Petrel and Wilson’s Storm Petrels to the trip list. More excitement then followed when a Northern Royal Albatross put in a brief appearance. Our sixth albatross species for the day!
Conditions were near perfect and we decided to eat lunch in the deep. This proved to be a wonderful call as the Northern Royal appeared again and did several close flybys! We had just finished lunch and were contemplating starting the run back to the mainland when Alastair spotted a Spectacled Petrel heading straight towards us!
We now had to really turn and run back to Simon’s Town. The run back was uneventful and we encountered one brief Humpback Whale in False Bay.
The mandatory stop at the Bank Cormorant breeding colony at Partridge Point produced good views of Bank, Cape, Crowned and White-breasted Cormorant.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Wandering Albatross - 1
Northern Royal Albatross - 1
Shy Albatross - c.300
Black-browed Albatross - c.400
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 4
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Pintado Petrel - c.50
White-chinned Petrel - c.1000
Spectacled Petrel - 1
Southern Giant Petrel - 1
Northern Giant Petrel - 3
Sooty Shearwater - c.200
Manx Shearwater - 1
Wilson's Storm Petrel - c.12
Brown (Subantarctic) Skua - c.30
Mammals:Humpback Whale - 3
Cape Fur Seal - Common
A message from Cape Town Pelagics:
A huge thank you to our experienced skippers who are
able to safely lead us to the best birding areas and
skillfully manoeuvre the boat into just the best position
while all on board are busy concentrating on the birds!
Coordinating a pelagic trip over a year in advance
with guests from all across South Africa and different
countries around the world requires an organised office
team. We thank them for their special eye for detail
- and for the sometimes last-minute rearrangements
and frustration if the weather delays the trip to
another day! Our biggest thank-you is to our Cape
Town Pelagics guides who take time out of their work,
often involving seabirds and conservation, and time
away from their families, to provide our guests with
a world-class birding experience. Cape Town Pelagics
donates all it profits to seabirds, and so all the
participants who join the trip make a contribution
towards bird research and conservation - a big thank
you from all of us.
Trip Report by Cape Town Pelagics
guide Cliff Dorse.
Photos taken by Danie Opperman.
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